Boomers are enriching orthopedic surgeons by replacing their knees and reattaching their rotator cuffs. It's big business for the medical device makers. And it's only getting bigger.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Craig Faulks at George Washington University Hospital is seeing a boom in business -- baby boomer business. He’s tending to athletic patients like 56-year-old Rita Schoeny, who refuse to slow down.
“Patients, as they get older and older want to remain active,” he said. “So I'm doing operations. I'm seeing patients for certain problems that I normally would have only taken care of in younger patients.”
Knee replacements, for instance, are now twice as frequent in boomers as the previously more common hip replacement. That means big volume for orthopedic device makers like Zimmer Holdings, Stryker and Biomet, which started to see a surge six years ago, as boomers hit their mid-fifties. The company is now seeing about 10 percent topline growth.
“The issue now is whether or not they've borrowed from the past,” said an industry analyst Jason Wittes at Leerink Swann & Co. in New York. “Meaning have they implanted patients early and are now not going to see those patients in the future or is this boom going to keep coming?”
Wittes thinks it will keep coming, as boomer patients keep coming back.
“I definitely think that the technology has enabled people like myself to keep getting things fixed,” he said.
With boomers leading the way, sports injuries are now the number two reason for visiting the doctor, second only to the cold. A study finds sports related injuries to boomers in the 1990s rose 33 percent, and they weren't even 60 yet then, as some are today.
“They demand the treatments that I'm giving to 20 and 30 year olds,” said Faulks.
The oldest boomers grew up on Jack LaLanne, the youngest on Jane Fonda. And even those two pre-boomers are still active.
“I would like to continue to be aerobically active in good physical condition until they cart me out to the hearse,” said Schoeny.
That drive to remain fit, ironically, may contribute to the rise in injuries such as cartilage and ligament damage, stress fractures, tendinitis, and torn rotator cuffs. Doctors say some 80 percent of these injuries are the result of overuse.